When Father Aquino was growing up in the Philippines, his Catholic faith was heavily influenced by missionary priests who served there — everyone from the Spanish priests who served his parish to the Irish Jesuit who molded his spirituality.
“His name was Father Frank Dolan, and his spirituality and dedication to the priesthood stirred a fire in me,” said Father Aquino who will celebrate 25 years in the priesthood Sept. 8. When asked what his mentor, who died a few years after Father Aquino was ordained, might say to him on his silver jubilee, Father Aquino offered a heartfelt chuckle. “I could imagine him touching me on the shoulder and encouraging me to keep going. Keep going. Keep going. That is what I could imagine him doing.”
Soft-spoken and optimistic, Father Aquino said it was God’s providence that led him to the Diocese of Orlando. Three years after his ordination at Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica in Naga City, Camarines Sur, Philippines, he served as pastor of a newly established parish. Someone donated land, but he had to build the church and other buildings from scratch. He ran out of money while furnishing the church then got an invitation to visit Central Florida. Through the local Propagation of the Faith office, he visited two diocesan parishes in 1998. His bishop in the Philippines, who recognized the economic downturn within the United States told him, “Don’t expect too much” in terms of donations.
Both men were surprised when Father Aquino returned to the Philippines with $20,000 to finish his church. “I was able to finish the church,” he recalled. “I was so grateful to the diocese.”
Father Aquino returned to the diocese in 2004, this time to offer priestly minister in this country. He served first at St. Joseph in Winter Haven, Holy Spirit in Lake Wales and then Holy Family in Orlando. He has served as parochial administrator of Our Lady of the Lakes in Deltona since 2011.
While his parish is in the rural area of Volusia County, Father Aquino said there are Filipinos in the area who connect at the parish, especially during events important to the community such as the Simbang Gabi Christmas novena. And on the third weekend of September, he hopes to introduce a celebration of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, the patron of his homeland province.
The priest is grateful for the welcoming spirit of the entire Deltona parish community. That spirit, along with the many graces he has experienced in the last 25 years, proves to him the divine providence of his vocation.
“There have been miracles, little and big, extraordinary and ordinary moments that have mixed together and I (know) everything that has happened has happened in the right way,” he said. “I am so grateful that I see God’s hand in my life. I am God’s instrument. I know it is a cliché to say that, but it is true.”